Sunday, February 8, 2015

Greek Treat

We don't typically drink much in the way of Greek wines in our home. I think I've previously noted that most of the Greek wine we drink is by the litre or the carafe while scarfing back calamari or souvlaki at a local Greek taverna. Boo and I, however, are seriously looking at travelling to Greece this fall. So, I'm trying to find a few, higher end Greek wines to whet the palate.

I grabbed this bottle from one of the local specialty wine merchants (as opposed to the larger government-run stores) to pair with a travel guide book as a Christmas gift for Boo. It turned out to be quite the Greek treat.

1856.  2011 Alpha Estate Axia - Malagouzia (Greece)

Now, I wouldn't know a prototypical Malagouzia wine from one that simply stuck that label on any one of a dozen white juices, but Jancis Robinson et al, in their tome, Wine Grapes, advise that Malagouzia characteristically produces "full bodied, aromatic wines," exhibiting a big mouthfeel and bouquet - but lower acidity - when the grapes are grown in hotter sites. The wines can exhibit more acidity when sourced from cooler, higher elevations but those wines "can be thinner and less impressive." Thin and not-so-impressive being catchwords for most of my previous experiences with white, Greek wines.

 I like how the winery's website says that this Malagouzia is "fat but balanced." I think that's a pretty apt description of the wine.

Wine Grapes also says that the grape was "recently rescued from oblivion" and one of my favourite sources of more unfamiliar grapes (before he retired from his blog), Rob Tebeau of Fringe Wine, wrote a nice, little piece that talks a bit of how the grape was brought back from obscurity to become "one of the most important white grapes grown in Greece."

Not being that familiar with Greek wines, I'd never heard of the winery. Most of the Greek wines I run into are Boutari, Domestica or Tsantali. Alpha Estate was founded in 1997 and is found in the northwest part of Greece in the Florina region of Macedonia. An indication of the winery's modernity is that, in addition to traditional Greek grapes, the estate's vineyard grows such international varieties as Sauv Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Noir, Montepulciano, Tannat, Merlot and Syrah.

We haven't done one iota of planning for this Greek Odyssey of our's; so, I have no idea if we'd make it anywhere near Alpha Estate during our travels, but I do know that I want to take in some wineries and find a whole lot of wines as tasty as this one was.

Even if we don't make our way to Alpha Estate or run into any of their wines, I'm already benefiting from their wines. I've yet to add Malagouzia to my Wine Century Club tally. So, this bottle gets me #176 on that list. Now that I've got less than another 150 bottles before I hit 2001 on The List, I'm hoping to pull in that last two dozen wines to hit 200 varieties before I get to take a bit of rest. I might need to find some more Greek wines before we actually hit the islands.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Malbec and Mid-Week

1855.  2008 Bodega Sur de los Andes Malbec (Argentina)

Sur de los Andes is a relatively new name on the Argentine wine scene. The winery was established in 2005 by Guillermo Banfi, an Argentine banker who left the financial world to pursue his business interests and taste for wine in 2002. The grapes are sourced from a number of long-term contract growers in some of the prime areas of Mendoza.

The winery offers four ranges of wines and this bottle is the Malbec from the entry level Clasico series. Along with the Cab Sauv, Bonarda, Torrontés and Chardonnay varietal wines produced as Clasico wines, the Malbec is delivered as a fruit forward, easy drinking sip that still sees a bit of oak as it aims to deliver more than you'd expect at an entry level price. Sur de los Andes is often cited as a top brand value winery and, if memory serves, I picked this wine out as a fave at an Argentine tasting that presented a range of around 16 different Malbecs.

I don't know that Sur de los Andes can readily be found in our market. But Malbec and mid-week are a great combo in our household and, being a guy that likes some great fruit in his glass, I'll definitely keep an eye open for another bottle from these guys.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Cherysh the Thought

1854.  2010 Forbidden Fruit Cherysh Cherry Rosé (Similkameen Valley)

I'm at the stage of the blog where I always check previous posts to see if I've already added a particular bottle to The List. Since I'll often pick up more than one bottle of a wine's single vintage, those second bottles are cropping up (or the corks are popping out) more and more often. I didn't think there'd already be a bottle of the 2010 Cherysh on The List because we don't drink a lot of fruit wines - and it wasn't but I was a little surprised to see that I had previously added a bottle of the 2009 vintage at #1155.

As much of what I'd write this time around was written on the previous post and other posts on Forbidden Fruit wines, I'll just leave the link as opposed to re-hashing my earlier notes.

I will add, however, that the 2010 vintage was a very successful one for Cherysh. The wine won Gold at the All Canadian Wine Championship, Silver at the Northwest Wine Summit Competition and was a Finalist in the Spring Okanagan Wine Festival. Not a bad haul.

As with the 2009, I likely waited too long to open the bottle. I think we would have found more cherry notes on the wine if we'd opened it a couple of years ago. I just seem to hesitate on fruit wines when it comes to picking something for dinner. I generally don't see fruit wines going with a red wine dinner, but then it seems just as hard to pair (no pun intended) them with our standard white wine dinners. I simply opened this one, finally, as I would a Rosé and we did just fine (although it would seem I neglected to take a picture of the accompanying meal this time around). We had it accompanying duck with a pomegranate gelée - not quite a cherry sauce but close enough for government work (as they say).

I'm going to have to keep an eye open for a newer vintage and try sipping back on it a bit earlier, without the aging, because this could easily fit into our rotation of Rosé wines.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Barbera Kind of Night

1853.  2007 Beni di Batasiolo Sovrana Barbera d'Alba (Barbera d'Alba DOC - Piedmont - Italy)

It's mid-week. A spaghetti and meatballs kind of night. In my book, you can't really go wrong with Barbera d'Alba. From the home of Barolo and Barbaresco, Barbera d'Alba's generally one of the easier drinking, lighter red wines (along with Dolcetto) from the Langhe region. With a bit of spice and dark cherry notes, this Barbera was a bit richer than expected - but that was no problem whatsoever.

It would seem that Beni di Batasiolo produces two Barbera d'Alba wines because I've already added a 2007 to The List all the way back at #169. While I couldn't see any reference to differences in the two versions on the winery website, I see that the Sovrana sells for a bit more. So, the Sovrana may be made from more premium grapes.

In any event, I'm a fan.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Super Bowl Merlot

So, it was Super Bowl Sunday and, with our being from Vancouver and just north of Seattle, we were hoping for a repeat by the Seahawks. I figured we could even open a treat of a Washington wine to help celebrate the day.

Luckily, the wine fared better in the glass than the Seahawks did on the field.

1852.  2008 Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot (Columbia Valley - Washington State)

I like the story behind Long Shadows. Boo and I first heard their tale at a wine dinner a couple of years ago at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Long Shadow's resident winemaker, Gilles Nicault, regaled those fortunate enough to attend the dinner with the short history of the "winery" and the long history of those behind it. I wrote a post about the dinner and the winery's story; so, maybe I won't rehash all of that again this time around.

Suffice it to say that, after having spent 20 years with Ste. Michelle winery in Washington state, Long Shadows' proprietor, Allen Shoup, decided to work on his own vision of joining up with "a dream team of celebrated vintners" from around the world where each of those vintners would partner with Long Shadows to create a showcase wine that matches Washington fruit with worldwide experience.

Pedestal is the collaboration between Long Shadows and Michel Rolland, one of the most influential winemakers and consultants in the world. Hailing from Pomerol, Bordeaux and France's primary home for Merlot, Rolland, Shoup and Nicault have crafted a predominantly Merlot wine (the 2008 vintage also featured 12% Cab Sauv, 4% Cab Franc and 3% Petit Verdot) that wowed the big names - 93 points from both Robert Parker and Stephen Tanzer and 92 from Wine Spectator.

I don't (and won't) pretend to espouse learned bons mots and tasting notes on the wine itself but I think Wine Spectator may have summed it up when they wrote, "one sip demands another."

Good thing I didn't have that much invested in the game (not like the Canucks' Stanley Cup run in 2011), because long after Katy Perry and her dancing sharks had left the stage, it became evident that the now infamous two-yard passing play would turn this into more of a consolatory sip than a celebratory one. Instead of the Seahawks being placed on a pedestal as repeat champions, the podium belonged to Tom Brady.

At least the Merlot and this Pedestal was still our's.

Middle Kingdom Meets The Seven Kingdoms

Boo is an unabashed Games of Thrones fan - and he's pulled me into all the intrigue hook, line and sinker as well. So, it was a bit of a no-brainer that we'd take in Season's 4's final two episodes when they were shown at one of the local IMAX theatres. The only theatre in Vancouver's Lower Mainland region to screen the episodes was in Richmond - a bit out of our normal stomping grounds but there really was no choice in the matter. We just made the best of the trek by grabbing dinner in one of Richmond's myriad of top notch Chinese restaurants.

Not that we'd know where to go.

Luckily, Boo has a number of Chinese colleagues who are well acquainted with the Richmond dining scene. We tried one of the higher end Chinese seafood restos but it was already full to capacity because of a wedding. Boo made a quick call to one of the girls at work and she recommended that we simply cross the street and try another - which we did. Admittedly, we weren't all that adventurous with our choices - salt & pepper squid, Peking Duck and house seafood noodles - but they all sounded good and we hadn't been there before.

The wine list was on the short side but we went with an Aussie white, thinking it could go with anything that came out of the kitchen.

1851.  2012 De Bortoli Family Selection Traminer Riesling (Riverina - Australia)

De Bortoli is the largest producer (by some margin) in Australia's Yarra Valley outside Melbourne. Part of the sizeable production is based on the fact that the winery does source a good percentage of its fruit from other regions. Bottle in point, this blend of Traminer and Riesling was made with fruit from the more commercial Riverina district. Traminer can be the name for a couple of grapes in Oz - as it is used interchangeably with Gewürztraminer but can also be used in its more genetically distinguishable form which would be Savagnin Blanc or White Traminer. Although the website doesn't state it, I'm guessing this is a Riesling/Gew blend as it is the far more prevalent grape.

At $13 in the Vancouver market, I consider this to be an entry level (if not commercial) wine. We found it to be a bit on the sweet side - which normally might have been okay with Chinese food but, on this occasion, our meal choices didn't really have enough spiciness or heat to match up with the wine.

We had more important fish to fry than to try and spice up our meal though. The Seven Kingdoms were calling and our change in restaurant plans had left us rather tight for time. So, we hastily retreated from our visit to the Middle Kingdom and made our way to Castle Black and Westeros. It would appear that the finish on our wine was a fair bit sweeter than the end met by many of those in the Game of Thrones.

I can live with that.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Big, Bold Strayla Day

I almost missed it but, luckily, I saw a reference online to the fact that it was Australia Day. It only made sense that we pull out a big, old Aussie red to go with something we could throw on the barbee.

1850.  2005 Pirramimma Petit Verdot (McLaren Vale)

Pirramimma is one of those Aussie wineries that I've known of for years; yet, I know very little about them. For a smaller, family-owned operation, Pirramimma offers a healthy number of wines - particularly since their total output is limited to approximately 40,000 cases. I recall that I was introduced to the winery and their Petit Verdot at a tasting some years back and I've remembered them ever since. I've added some Pirramimma wines to The List previously, but it appears that this is the first Petit Verdot - despite it being the grape variety I remember them for best.

The winery website says that the winery researched the grape variety in their vineyard for eleven years before they released their first varietal wine in 1994. "The Pirramimma Petit Verdot vineyard was the first and is now the largest in Australia." Indeed, some of the comments they show on the site state that "Pirramimma has long been a benchmark for varietal Verdot" and ask "Is there any better Petit Verdot in the world?"

Petit Verdot is an authorized Bordeaux grape; however, it is a late ripener and, as such, doesn't play that large of a role in most Bordeaux wines. That may change a bit with climate change but, for the time being, you might find that Petit Verdot, made into a varietal wine, is more likely to have originated from a warmer climate - like Australia or California.

The grape is known for powerful presence, deep colour and rich tannins - whether found as a varietal wine or as a component in a blend. When fully ripened, P.V. wines will be full-bodied and full of dark fruit. This wine certainly exhibited the powerful notes. It drank nicely with the steak but I didn't find this vintage to be particularly fruit-driven. It became a bit overpowering when being sipped on its own. I wonder how much bolder the wine would have been without the decade of ageing.

All considered, I'm a firm believer in "different is good" and, as such, I'll continue to look forward to a return visit to Pirramimma and to its "benchmark" Petit Verdot.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An Evening of Oculus - BCWAS's 10th Anniversary Bash

I don't often add bottles to The List from the various tastings that I attend throughout the year; however, I'm making an exception with this one. Throughout 2015, the BC Wine Appreciation Society is celebrating its 10th Anniversary and my favourite gang of guzzlers is rejoicing with a line-up of exciting festivities. The first of those bashes is perhaps the most extravagant tasting that the society has ever offered - a twelve-year vertical tasting of one of the province's most iconic wines: Mission Hill's Oculus - in the lush surroundings of the Vancouver Club.

Society cellarmasters had accumulated nine vintages of Oculus over the years and Mission Hill graciously provided some of the 1999 - one of the earliest vintages produced - as well as the 2011 and 2012 vintages that haven't even been released yet. Ingo Grady, the winery's director of wine education, joined Society members for the tasting and he regaled the assembled wine lovers with stories of the winery's goals, trials and tribulations as Mission Hill strives to achieve its goal of making a wine that can rank with the finest of Bordeaux wines.

I think everyone in attendance knew that they were lucky to participate but the prestige of the tasting became even more evident as, shortly after the tasting, articles were published by both John Schreiner and Anthony Gismondi - two of the most notable wine scribes in BC. Indeed, even Ingo stated that he wasn't sure that the tasting would ever be held again. Private collections of the wine through the years will be few and far between and the winery itself - much to its surprise - found out that it no longer has any of the 2000 or 2001 vintages left in its own cellar.

We learned that the first vintage of Oculus was released in 1997 when approximately 500 cases was made. While production has increased over the years, the total number of cases is still likely to be less than two or three thousand. Along with increased production, a fairly dramatic change in the wine's make-up occurred in 2005 when the winery brought in renowned Bordeaux consultant, Michel Rolland, to help give some assistance and direction. Ingo pointed out that the winery's owner, Anthony von Mandl, and winemaker, John Simes, realized that achieving their goal would be a lengthy process and the winery readily acknowledges that the wine is still a work in progress as everyone behind the wine realizes that they are still learning about the make-up of the Okanagan soils, the growing season and cropping levels. The production of Oculus has seen the introduction of practically an entire "winery within the winery," the creation of dedicated cellar areas and the use of infra-red imaging of the vineyards to assist in the pinpointing of ripening patterns and of parts of the vineyard block that might need additional attention.

I found it interesting to hear that the assemblage of each vintage's final blend is overseen by 15 tasters - one of whom will be from outside the winery to ensure some independent input into the blending. The final wine is now primarily Merlot with Cab Sauv and Cab Franc making up the balance. Petit Verdot has been used in some vintages; however, the winery's Petit Verdot hasn't been up to the desired standard and it hasn't been included in the last four vintages that have been completed. Malbec has never been used in the blend as winemaker, Simes, doesn't feel that Okanagan Malbec is typical of the variety and isn't well-suited for the region.

Back in the day of those first bottles in 1997, they sold for $35 and the price was considered to be an extravagant ask. John Schreiner stated in his article that, at the time, the average price for a bottle of BC VQA wine was around $12. Oculus now retails for $100 - one of a very few BC wines that command a price in that lofty range - but Ingo stresses that the winery feels that they actually need to "over deliver" when they charge such a price.

Thus far, Mission Hill hasn't had any problems selling all the Oculus that they can produce though. The price might, however, give you an idea why I've only added the wine to The List on a couple of occasions: the first being back at the very beginning blog - a 2003 at #10 to be precise - and the other when I added both the 2000 and the 2005 vintages (at #819 and #820) to urge on the Canucks during their ill-fated 2011 Stanley Cup series with the Bruins. The Canucks won that game but I guess I should have opened more Oculus during the later playoff games.

1849.  2009 Mission Hill Oculus (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I think everyone had a difficult time picking a favourite vintage at the tasting. Some of the vintages, particularly the older ones, saw a profound change in profile over the course of the evening. Both Boo and I quite enjoyed the '09 though (as did most of our table companions and Gismondi and Schreiner). The wine was rich and received full marks for an abundance of dark, ripe fruit.

I wouldn't mind a few bottles of that wine in our cellar but I'm afraid I shall have to rely on the kindness of strangers if I'm to have another chance at this great vintage.

On top of the awesome selection of wines, the evening featured a few moments of wit and camaraderie as well. Ingo pointed out that a magnum is "the perfect size for three people so long as one is a non-drinker." Then, John Schreiner raised some laughs of his own when he remarked, "Good God, doesn't everybody do verticals at home?"

The Society also paid homage to Tim Ellison and Francis Dorsemaine, the brilliant minds behind the creation of BCWAS, and also gathered the four members in attendance who were actually among those present at the very first Society tasting those ten years ago.

And, of course, having enjoyed Tim's sartorial splendour at events over the Society's first decade, our past President was obliged to show the assembled gang that he cold still pull off a bit of colour - if only with his socks - all these years later. An even bigger chuckle was earned by Francis when he revealed that he could also sport some wild shades of his own when he lifted his pant leg to show a bit of brightness that even Tim could be proud of.

All in all, it was a great start to BCWAS's second decade. Here's toasting the rest of events to come and wines to be drunk in the year and years to come.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A New Generation of Riesling

Considering all the Riesling I drink and add to The List, there should probably be more 8th Generation already recounted on this blog. Bernd and Stefanie Schales' Riesling is - that should be "Rieslings are" - right up there with wines I'm always on the look out for. Given that both of the Schales have German heritage and their respective families have had eight and ten generations of grape growing and winemaking back in Germany, it's should come as no surprise that they have a bit of experience with the Riesling grape.

1848.  2011 8th Generation Riesling (Okanagan Valley)

An 8th Generation Riesling appeared on The List as early as #294 but I've added just as many of their Rosés and bubblies as Rieslings since then. There are more because there just isn't a lot of 8th Generation wine made. Case in point, only 270 cases of this 2011 vintage were made (as it wasn't the greatest of growing seasons) and, furthermore, there's a little problem in that I only seem to get an opportunity to stop in at the winery every other year or so.

I remember I picked up this bottle following the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference that was held not too far from the winery (Summerland vs. Penticton). The tasting room wasn't overly busy and Stefanie was gracious enough to walk me through all of their wines and spend as much time with me as was needed to answer as many questions as I could throw at her.

If memory serves, 2011 was the first vintage that the winery got to keep all of its Riesling grapes for itself. They had previously contracted out a healthy percentage of their grapes to other wineries. That allowed them to play around a bit with their fruit and they began making two (or more) versions - primarily a "Classic" and a "Selection" - where they can work with residual sugar levels, skin contact and even a bit of fermenting a percentage of the juice at a warmer temperature to add some heft to the weight of the wine.

I like the fact that this bottle had a touch of sweetness to it - while still showing bright acidity - as it allows some interesting pairings with food - particularly if you like a bit of spice to act as a counterpoint to the wine.

Luckily, I think I have a few more vintages tucked away somewhere around here but, more than that, I'm quite looking forward to the vintages yet to come.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hurry Hard Hollywood - Pac Rim Cup

Having pulled the corks on some pretty special bottles over the recent holidays, this post is definitely more about where I drank the next wine and who I drank it with than it will ever be about the wine itself.

Funny but our curling rink doesn't exactly have an extensive selection of wine at the bar. The beer is plentiful and liquor flows but I guess there aren't too many curlers that cry out for a glass of wine after the last rock has been thrown.

Indeed, our team at this year's Pac Rim Cup must have polished off a good dozen pitchers over the weekend but I made sure that there was at least one bottle of wine on the table so that I'd have some reason to blog about the weekend.

This year's theme was Hurry Hard Hollywood and there were some Oscar-worthy team names and costumes, the top dogs being "My Favourite Things." The A-List foursome not only won top prize with their playing on the ice but they also wowed the red carpet crowd and paparazzi with their outfits. They showed up in drag (it is a gay bonspiel after all) on the Friday night and had people guessing until it became apparent that one of their favourite things was "girls in white dresses with blue sating sashes." I particularly liked how their blue martinis matched their blue satin sashes. Julie Andrews would have been proud.

They were equally surprising the next day when they showed up with jock straps, wrapped in brown kraft paper, outside of their curling pants. Those girls in white dresses had been followed up by "brown paper packages tied up with string." Not even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Booze Brothers could keep up with them.

Given the Hollywood theme to our little bonspiel, the event just played naturally into our regular team name of "50 Sheets of Gay." For the few of you unfamiliar with curling, the games are played on "sheets." I'm not so sure that our team was anything more than vanilla in its appropriation of the 50 Shades allusions but, hey, I hear the movie isn't so steamy either.

1847.  2012 Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône (AOC Côtes du Rhône - France)

I think there were three red wines and three whites to choose from at the club bar and I picked the Rhône thinking it might have the biggest body of those limited choices. Not so much. I'm afraid I found the wine rather thin and insipid.  Maybe it was a palate sullied by beer but it seemed that there was little in the way of body or fruit to grab a hold of. We finished the bottle off but there was a general consensus that we'd return to the draft rather than order another bottle.

I suppose I should at least give the club some props for having any wine at all - after all, I think there's little argument that most curlers will readily agree that beer rules.

With the bonspiel continuing from Friday night all through the weekend, there was plenty of entertainment off the ice as well as on.

Friday night featured karaoke - some of which had us using an early game the next morning as an excuse to head out before the evening's crowd had fully dispersed. I heard more than a couple comments hoping that the singers curled better than they sang. Glad I didn't get up on stage. Those were some catty bitches in the bar.

Saturday night's entertainment is traditionally more involved - to pair with the banquet buffet that's also offered up - and this year's was no exception. Local diva, Mandy Kamp, gave us her best Bette and Liza and we were also regaled with a new fangled approach to "drag-in-a-bag," two victims were chosen (because of their prowess in Hollywood trivia) to re-enact a number from Chicago. That took some good sportsmanship.

All-in-all, it was another grand bonspiel - even if the wine was unmemorable and our team played like it was definitely destined for a life on the D-List. Now for some recovery time.